Monday, July 22, 2013

Education is Hard

A blow this week to the "disrputive" idea that online learning will replace universities:
In January, San Jose State University made a big announcement: It had reached a deal with the startup Udacity to offer college classes for credit online, for a modest fee, not only to its own students but to anyone who wanted to take them. The move was touted as a major step in online learning. . . .

It seems, however, that there are a few more kinks to work out before we all toss out the books and the buildings for good. Inside Higher Ed reported on Thursday that San Jose State is suspending the Udacity partnership just six months after it launched. The problem: More than half the students in the first batch of online courses failed their final exams.

Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun, a machine-learning legend at Stanford and Google, told the AP that the failure rates in the five classes ranged from 56 to 76 percent. Nor was the course material exactly rocket science—the five classes were in elementary statistics, college algebra, entry-level math, introduction to programming, and introduction to psychology.
Everyone involved in education knows that real teaching is a complex, difficult act, and real learning is a mystery that we can watch happen but have a hard time predicting or controlling. The atmosphere of being on a campus full time is a huge part of why universities succeed in teaching as much as they do, and the online world is not going to find it easy to duplicate that atmosphere.

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